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Learning packs keep Asunder legacy alive

SUNDERLAND schoolchildren will learn about life during the First World War through music and songwriting as part of a legacy project for the award-winning film Asunder, thanks to a grant from 14-18 NOW.

The film premiered at the Sunderland Empire on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 as part of the national 14 -18 NOW programme of arts experiences connecting people with the First World War, as part of the UK’s official centenary commemorations.

Written and produced by respected music writer, film producer and member of pop band Saint Etienne, Bob Stanley, Asunder tells the story of the North East’s involvement in one of the most traumatic battles in military history through personal experiences.

The film was directed and co-produced by award-winning artist and filmmaker Esther Johnson and narrated by Kate Adie OBE, with Alun Armstrong as the voice of the Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette. The film’s soundtrack was scored by Field Music and Warm Digits, performed with Royal Northern Sinfonia and The Cornshed Sisters.

Earlier this year it was announced Sunderland Culture would deliver an Asunder legacy programme, including screenings of the film at local and national venues, along with an educational resource project for Sunderland schools.

That free resource pack, produced in partnership with Sunderland Music Hub and Esther Johnson, is now ready to send out to local schools along with online access to a screening of the film itself.

Rebecca Ball, Creative Director at Sunderland Culture, explained: “The learning pack is a great way to make World War One accessible and engaging for young people, using songwriting to show the realities of life in the region at the time, and bringing to life some truly memorable characters.

“The resource guides teachers and pupils through the key elements of a song – lyrics, rhythm, melody and harmony – using the talents of Field Music, Warm Digits and The Cornshed Sisters to do so.

“The learning pack is not just for music teachers though – there are lots of helpful tips for those who’ve never taught music or songwriting before. As well as music, it has curriculum links to history, English, drama and Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education (PSHCE).

“We’d love to hear the results, so we’re encouraging schools to share their songs and rhymes with us!”

Esther Johnson added: I’m thrilled that we’ve had the opportunity to put this learning resource together, offering the many prescient themes and powerful stories in Asunder as inspiration for the development of new songs. Music is a central focus of the project and a terrific way of understanding and connecting histories and the lived experiences of the First World War to contemporary ways of life.”

The resource was put together by songwriter Eddie Scott and Sunderland Music Hub Manager Lizzie Nixon, Sunderland Culture’s Rachel Hamer and Helen Connify, with help from Esther Johnson and Robyn Walker who helped record backing tracks – which are freely available for teachers to use with the pack.

Lizzie Nixon said: “We’re delighted to work in partnership with Sunderland Culture to bring this resource pack to schools in the city and beyond.

“Songwriting is a brilliant way for children and young people to explore the themes of Asunder and to connect with exceptional individuals represented in the film who lived in our region during the First World War.

“The city has a rich musical history, which is captured in Asunder by musicians such as Field Music and The Cornshed Sisters, and this project will allow children and young people to contribute to that through their own original songs. We’re very much looking forward to hearing their responses.”

Themes that Esther uncovered in the film range from football to suffrage; stories of everyday life told through a combination of archive material, new footage shot in the North East, music and a poetic narrative inspired by oral history audio recordings.

Some of the characters in the film include Sgt George Thompson – a transport driver in the 7th Durham Light Infantry whose story was dubbed ‘the original War Horse’ after his diary told the tale of both him and his horse surviving the Somme; Bella Reay – a young munitions worker during World War One and also top striker in Blyth Spartans Ladies FC scoring 133 goals in one season and going on to play for England; Lizzie Holmes – the first woman in Horden to wear trousers, challenging convention and inspiring other women factory workers; and Margaret Holmes, a tram conductress and heroine of a Zeppelin bombing raid.